Jun 29

Some Great Ideas for Using a Vocabulary Box

Communicative vocabulary practice

What's a Vocab Box... and why you need one?

Learning vocabulary is an essential part of improving in a language and if you don't recycle and reuse it, your learners will definitely forget what you've taught them. This simple, low tech idea will help you to do this in lots of useful ways- I've included five here!

Video transcript

What do learners always think they need?... Grammar!

What do learners ACTUALLY probably need?... more VOCABULARY!

And it’s all very well teaching them new words and phrases but if they’re not recycled and reused, guess what’s going to happen?

They’re going to lose it.

How can you help them? A simple box (actual or virtual!). Let me show you how.

I’m Jo Gakonga, I’m a teacher educator, a CELTA and MA TESOL tutor and I’ve got a website at ELT-Training where I make video based material to help learners at all stages of their careers. If you like this, give it a thumbs up and subscribe, I make a new video every week.

A vocabulary box can be any kind of container – I usually try to find something that is attractive such as a gift box, but even a humble A5 envelope would do the job. Inside, you put pieces of paper about the size of business cards. After every lesson, record the vocabulary that the learners have covered on the cards (or on the list)… one word or expression per card. How much information you put on the card is really up to you. I usually include an article for countable nouns (ie. ‘a cat’ rather than ‘cat’) and the part of speech for individual words. It’s also worth thinking about any other information that learners will need in order to use the word, for example, dependent prepositions where necessary (to depend on’ rather than ‘to depend’) or whether phrasal verbs are splittable or not (‘to pick (something) up’ rather than ‘to pick up’). If you’re teaching online, you can do this just by keeping a folder somewhere with a list of new vocabulary.

A vocabulary card might look like this:
An orange (n)          
On the other hand,
There are all sorts of different ways of doing this and how much information you include is completely up to you. You could add a translation in L1 on the back of the card, for example, or a sentence to show usage. I tend to keep them quite simple though. This means they are less onerous to make! If you keep a stash of spare cards handy, it’s a quick job at the end of a lesson to write perhaps ten items after each class, and you’ll find this quickly builds up into a really useful resource.

So, you’ve got your vocabulary box and some vocabulary in it that your learners have covered in previous classes. Here are FIVE suggestions on how to use it:

Simple recall
The simplest way to use the material is to give out the cards to pairs of learners (perhaps 4 or 5 each) and ask them to remind each other what the words mean. You could also ask them to choose the ones they are less sure of and write a sentence with them. After a few minutes, they can then pass on their cards to the next pair and receive new ones.

What’s my word?
Pick a word from the box and give the learners a definition for it. This is an adjective- it means that you are right- a teacher might say this to you- well done- that’s ____’ The first to guess the word gets the card. You could also ask them to produce a correct sentence with the word for an ‘extra point’. You can begin this as a ‘teacher to whole class’ activity and then give all learners a few cards each and they can ask each other- they give definitions to a partner and they guess the word. If they have a word that they don’t remember, they can try to find out by asking their partner or looking it up.

Give groups of learners a small pile of cards (perhaps 10) and ask them to put them into two or more categories. These can be categories you choose - (for example, ‘Put these words into groups of ‘words I will use’ and ‘words I don’t like’ or ‘nouns’ and ‘verbs’ or alphabetical order’)- or you could tell them to make their own categories and then explain what the categories are. Remember that it doesn’t really matter what these categories are. It’s just an excuse for them to interact with the words and have further meaningful exposure to them. The fact that they’re using the vocabulary will help to cement it in their memories and it also gives them a chance to ask classmates what a word or phrase means or look it up if they’ve forgotten.

Word association
This is a nice one. Put some words from the cards up on the board- maybe 6 to 8- and choose two. Learners have to work in pairs to make a sentence to join them. You can make this a team game and have points for grammatical correctness and also how original or funny the sentence is.

As a longer extension of word association you can also give each small group of learners about 10 cards and ask them to construct a short story using them. To make it easier, you could stipulate that only six of the ten words have to be used and the others are optional. You could also specify the type of story- a love story, a spooky story etc. When they’ve done this, they can then be re-grouped and re-tell their stories. Perhaps the listener could be asked to spot the words from the cards as they hear them.

These are a few ideas, but I am sure you’ll develop loads more as you start to play around with the cards. Your vocab box can be used as the basis for a whole lesson, it could be part of your lesson or just a five minute warmer or filler. You can also keep the box in a place in the room where it’s available so that your learners can access it before or after class if they’re keen!

I hope that you find it a useful resource. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve got any other great ideas for using it.

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